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Source: United Kingdom – Executive Government & Departments

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released the latest data from their COVID-19 Infection Survey.

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, said:

The ONS weekly surveillance data provides the most robust estimates we have as to the true prevalence of COVID-19 in communities because, unlike the Government’s daily testing data, it tests a random sample of the population irrespective of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms.

“Prior to this week’s surveillance report we have had several consecutive weeks of large increases in the estimate of daily new COVID-19 cases. This week however, for the first time since the summer, the ONS report similar levels of new infections to the previous week, approximately 46,000 each day. 

“While this is clearly welcome, there are several important points to note from the data. This is still a very high number of new cases each day – far higher than can be expected to be managed effectively by the current test and trace programme. The overall plateauing of case numbers masks the different patterns experienced by different age groups – teenagers and young adults saw a levelling off of infection rates but there were increases in all other age groups, including elderly groups who have the highest risk of hospitalisation and poor outcomes from infection. And the regions with the highest rates of COVID-19, such as the North West of England, have seen a decline in cases over this period, while other regions with lower infection rates, such as East and West Midlands, continue to see increases in infection rates.

“The ONS weekly surveillance data will be extremely important to assess the impact of the nationwide restrictions implemented on 5th November in the weeks to come.”


Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, said:

“The most recent ONS COVID-19 infection survey data has been released. This is a prevalence survey and not an incidence survey so it does not directly measure the number of new cases although it allows these to be estimated.  The most recent data covers the period 25 to 31 October so it is already a week or so out of date. In particular this data cannot be used to show any impact of the current lockdown which only stated yesterday.

“Nevertheless this data does suggest that the epidemic is not increasing as rapidly and may even have started to decline. The peak estimated incidence per 10,000 people per day was 9.52 in the period 17 to 23 October and this was a 47% increase on the value of 6.46 during the period 10 to 16 October. By contrast in the most recent period the estimated incidence was 8.38, a 12% decline. However this credible interval in the estimates does not allow us to be confident that the epidemic is indeed now declining and that it started to decline before the current lockdown.

“It is important that we do not make too many strong assumptions based on a single data source. However, the daily published UK data also support the suggestion that the autumn epidemic may be waning as the cases reported  in the 7 days ending 5th November was 157,857 compared to 154,873 in the previous 7 days and 136,860 in the 7 days before that. Daily hospitalisation rates may also be starting to level out. Sadly death rates are continuing to increase, but we would not expect to see any reduction for another week or so. Finally, the ZOE COVID Symptom Study UK Infection Survey is also suggesting a decline in the epidemic over the past week or so.

“Taken together these sources do suggest that the has been a decline in the spread of the epidemic over the past week or so. Whether this turns out to be a temporary decline or a longer term trend, possibly as a result of the imposition of the three tier system, it is too early to say. Nevertheless these observations are very welcome and hopefully when the current lockdown ends we will continue to see a continuing decline throughout the rest of the year and into 2021.”


Prof James Naismith FRS FRSE FMedSci, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and University of Oxford, said:

“Today’s ONS data release for the week ending 31st Oct brings welcome news. Although the virus is still growing, it does appear to have stabilised with 46, 000 (38, 000 to 60, 000) new cases per day; the previous week was 52, 000 (38, 000 to 78, 000).

“The ONS survey is a reliable guide to virus spread although this week there is larger uncertainty than normal which the ONS explains. Importantly these data present a picture consistent with the ZOE KCL data, the virus is spreading at a constant rather than an increasing rate. This is evidence that the social restrictions prior to lockdown have had a real impact.  

“Should we be at or past the peak of infections, then I would not expect the death rate to exceed 1000 a day for any prolonged period; however, we will are still very likely to face daily death tolls of 500 a day for a period in November. Each death represents a human tragedy.  It can be misleading to read too much into a single report, however the match with ZOE is encouraging. Should next week’s data show a similar stabilisation or reduction, then we can be confident that the second wave has for now stabilised.  The national lockdown will not begin to show up in ONS figures for another two weeks, but we would expect it to bring a rapid decrease in the number of new infections

“These numbers from ONS would suggest track and trace is reaching around 21 % of the contacts of infected people in the UK.

“In a democracy politicians must make the very difficult decisions to restrict our lives, and science cannot say this is the ‘right’ decision. I believe that SAGE provides UK government with high quality evidence and analysis on the spread of infections, the capacity of the NHS and the health, financial cost of social restrictions. This is best that science can do and we are fortunate to have this expertise. We do not have perfect information and the future is always uncertain. The clear risk is that the virus is not controlled quickly enough to stop hospitals over filling. The Prime Minister and parliament have decided that on balance their judgement is that the costs of a further ‘lockdown’ are preferable to running the risk of overfilling hospitals. 

“If we can contain the virus until the new year, mass testing, vaccines and new medicines will transform our outlook.”

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MIL OSI United Kingdom